The Wreck – a poem

I sit gazing over the warm waters of Islamorada –
The seabirds, the distant lighthouse, the wind-surfers,
Kayakers, and jet-skiers skudding to and fro.
Islamorada about relaxation, slowness,
Extended time, warmth, sun and beauty.
Rather than their busy-ness what intrigues me
Is what seems to be a wreck,
Marooned on the outer edges of the reef.
From the beach it reminds me of the carcass of a
Giant Wildebeest on the Africa savannah,
Its gaunt ribs, bleached by the sun, pointing to the sky.

My imagination takes control. No, it must be old,
A large, wooden fishing boat, forlorn and abandoned.
What accounted for its demise, the summons of death?
Did a storm or a hurricane drive the boat ashore?
Is there some treacherous current out there?
Did the skipper, reveling in a good day’s fishing,
Take a lazy short-cut across a sandbar toward the jetty?
Were the crew celebrating the catch with one too many beers,
With the engine at full blast, the steersman inattentive,
Drink in hand, came the sudden halt, the lurch,
As boat grounds on the reef in a falling tide.
At that speed it stresses the keel and chines.
Chaos! Maybe broken planking in the hull?
Maybe water pouring in?
Broken glasses and whisky pouring from the bottle.
A sudden sobering up, a ship abandoned.

Or was it more sober, a simple mistake?
Perhaps a freshening gale and the need for a secure mooring
Led to a moment of distraction and impatience?
The water is shallow, no lives were at stake.
At worst the crew could reach land and struggle in
Through choppy waters, touching the weedy bottom.
Best get the boat straight to safety. A risk taken.
All at once the boat was so firmly lodged that
Nothing could refloat her.

That was a year ago and every day the sea claims
Another piece of stringer here or a grab-rail there,
As the fishing boat gradually disintegrates.

————————————————————

“The remains of that boat out there, offshore”, I ask.
“What is its story? Was there an accident or perhaps a storm?”
” A boat? There is no boat”, comes the reply. ” Oh, that!
“Look again. That is no fishing boat; it is a
Tree,
Dislodged up-coast in a winter storm.
It floated down from Key to Key and settled upon
The sandbar, where now you see it”.

So much for my daydreaming! And my eyesight.
But I still prefer the more exciting version.
(Robert Hanrott, 1995)

Every qualified citizen should be allowed to vote

An astronaut, miles above the Earth in a spacecraft voted in the American election with an encrypted ballot. I thought that was wonderful. On the other hand ruthless gerrymandering has discouraged thousands of US citizens from getting to the polls in person. The President has spent huge amounts of time trying to discredit mail-in voting.

Polling stations have been closed, constituency boundaries have been re-drawn to ensure a certain outcome, and in one case at least there is only one dropbox in a whole (large) county. If you don’t have a car, cannot drive owing to age or ill health, or there is no public transport, you can be deprived of your vote unless ballots are mailed to you. Nonetheless, many poor people and minorities have voted in huge numbers. The response from the populists has been that the voting is fraudulent – a fraudulent lie in itself.

Epicurus would not be surprised at the gerrymandering etc, (he disliked politicians) but would rejoice in the fortitude and determination of people who, somehow or other, have still managed to vote and exercise their rights as citizens, and in huge numbers. Well done! And thank you to the poll workers, too! Democracy at work! (But we haven’t seen the last of those who would rob us of peace of mind or our rights as citizens, whichever party you voted for).

………..Three hours later: Relief!! Maybe now some peace and quiet.

Polititicization of science

The politicization of science in the name of religion and political partisanship is not new to the United States, but transformation of traditional geographically and economically based political parties into religiously oriented ideological coalitions marks the beginning of a new era for science policy.” (Jon Miller and colleagues, Michigan State University in “Science” magazine)

My comment: It marks the beginning of a new era for Epicureans as well, however they interpret Epicurus! It is all very well advocating keeping your head down and not getting involved, but there will at this rate come a point when rational people, such as Epicureans, will be persecuted and discriminated against for their independence of mind.  It is already happening in isolated spots for scientists and is alive and well in small communities with mega-churches, where conformity to church teaching is obligatory if you want a social life.

Guns and the election

In this pandemic year, gun sales have already totaled more than 17 million (including many first-time gun buyers). A record 15.1 million weapons were sold between March and September alone. Even for the country whose citizens were already (by far) the most heavily armed on the planet, this is record-breaking territory. We are an armed nation. No surprise then that, in these stressful election and Covid-19 months, gun deaths rose significantly in red states as well as blue states, red cities along with blue ones.

My comment: What is being openly discussed in Europe is right. After a century of dominance the moral and democratic hegemony of the United Sates in the Western world is truly over, gone, caput.

For me, anyway, the above statistic is obscene. And this comes from someone who, for decades, has been a fervent admirer of the country and its values, who married an American and came here to live. Let us hope there are still some grownups around to calm the country.

Modern silliness

The U.K. National Trust is the British organisation that looks after historic houses and gardens. (Up to now it has done a great job, a tourist’s must-see. (Ed.)

But the Trust’s “Ten-year Vision” seeks to reposition it in a manner that provides a telling example of the relentless politicisation of areas of life that should escape politics. Its raison d’être, you’d think, was to preserve historically significant houses and gardens for public enjoyment. Wrong. The Trust’s “Ten-year Vision” talks instead of the need for a “revolutionary” move away from the “outdated mansion experience” (sic) Underpinning “our 21st century ambition”, it says, “is our renewed commitment to… playing our part to create a fair, equal society” (Excuse me! What? Ed.)

And it’s not just the Trust. Football and rugby players have to kneel before every game “in obeisance to a protest movement sparked in another continent”. A male-voice choir of police employees in Wales has been told it can no longer associate itself with the police because it does not accept women members. (Male voice choirs are an old Welsh tradition. Ed) Such intrusions into the domain of independent societies threaten the very basis of pluralist society. “If we bow to the demand that all human activity must be understood and mediated through a political lens, we will live to regret it.”
(Niall Gooch, UnHerd, The Week, 24 October 2020)

My comment: How, pray, can an organisation set up to preserve stately homes possibly create a “fair, equal society” unless it fills them with poor moslem migrants? This is beyond crass and devalues the work of the many people genuinely trying to create a more fair society. I am no longer a member of the National Trust, but if I were I would resign. It has been taken over by morons.

Uncaring healthcare

Americans complain about healthcare and its cost. Brits, on the other hand, myself included, are proud of the “free” National Health Service. Or, to be exact, what used to be the National Health Service before the “Conservative” government started privatizing it by stealth and making it a profit center. Now read on………

To The Guardian
I have just seen an official circular from a large group medical practice in Manchester, announcing that, because of winter pressures, the Covid pandemic and the designation of Manchester as a high-risk zone, they will now be dealing only with “urgent” cases, nothing of a “routine” nature. If we have Covid symptoms we are instructed to get a test, but the surgery is unable to arrange it; “minor ailments” are to be taken to a pharmacist, or “please implement self-care where appropriate”.

What is not made clear is how a patient is to know if a symptom is “minor” (what if a tickly cough, for example, is lung cancer?), or how a patient is to know when self-care is “appropriate”.

There you have it: non-healthcare made official and explicit. The virus is proving to be breathtaking in more ways than one. Can we have our money back?
(Philip Barber, consultant respiratory physician, Manchester)

Lockdown pollution

During lockdown, road traffic fell dramatically all over the world. In Scotland, it was down 65%.

And yet all those cars being off the road didn’t make much difference to levels of air pollution. A team at the University of Stirling analysed levels of PM2.5 fine particulate matter recorded at 70 roadside locations around Scotland from 24 March – the day after lockdown was introduced – to 23 April. They then compared the data to the same periods in previous years, and found no significant difference. However, they did detect a fall in levels of nitrogen dioxide. Based on these findings, the researchers say that cars may not be key contributors to outdoor pollution in Scotland, and that people there may be at greater risk from air pollution in their own homes, especially if smoking or cooking is taking place in poorly ventilated spaces.
(The Week 19 September 2020).

My take: My personal betes noirs are the people who sit in their parked cars on our block with their car engines running, sometimes for half an hour or more. And it isn’t even cold. Meanwhile, they are concentrating on their cellphones or i-pads. I cannot imagine myself fouling the air of nearby householders, but apparently this point has not occurred to some out-of-towners who come into the city to work or to shop, without a thought for the rest of us. The idea of consideration for others was drummed into me as a child relentlessly. This modern selfishness, masquerading as “liberty”, is anti-social and obnoxious. And unepicurean.

Pension problem in UK

By 2028, British people won’t be able to claim their state pension until they’re 67.

According to a new study, however, there is a potential problem: although we are living longer, we may not be healthy enough to work for longer. Researchers at Keele University and Newcastle University used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to calculate how long the typical 50-year-old in England can expect to remain healthy and in work. They found that the “healthy working life expectancy” of this age group is about nine years – which means many people may not be healthy enough to work to the current pension age, let alone future ones. Predictably, healthy working life expectancy was higher for people in non-manual jobs than in manual ones. It also increased alongside education level. “Our results suggest that many people will find it challenging to work for longer,” said lead author Marty Parker. (The Week, 11 July 2020 and The Guardian)

My comment:  Connect the dots.  The government has spent years privatizing and reorganising the National Health Service, until now it is barely able to cope with Covid 19.  The NHS used to be the crown jewel of the British government. A successful project run by government is, however, considered unacceptable by hard-line Tories, who require everything to make a profit and be run by political friends.  Sound familiar?  As the Johnson government is just finding out, the idea of “making Britain great again” is a pipe-dream.

“The Rueful Hippopotamus” (to lighten the gloom)

Research now seems to indicate
That hippos can communicate,
Like dolphins or the great blue whale,
With clicks. And thereby hangs a tale,
For they can hear beneath the water
Things on land they didn’t oughta,
And from the bank can hear what’s said
By colleagues on the river bed.

Imagine you’re a great bull hippo,
Flumping down to take a dip-oh
In the greasy, grey Limpopo
With the girls in your seraglio.
You’ve had a hot and tiresome day
Chasing other males away.
You’ve gored them, left them sore and bleeding;
Now you are intent on breeding.

You’ve had your fill of the savannah.
You’re young, you’re fit, you’re top banana.
Why, every female hippolump
With big brown eyes and handsome rump
Is sure to swoon and yearn to be
The mother of your family.
Ah! Potty, with inviting lips;
And Mussy, with the sexy hips;

Heffy, with her nostrils flaring;
Lumpy, her whole midriff baring!
Yes, all will find you simply stunning.
Just one word and they’ll come running!
With thundering and galumphing stride,
You trundle to the riverside.
But nowhere, nowhere can you spy
Your eager hippopotamae.

And then to your acute dismay
You hear an amorata say,
Oh, dearie me, oh, what a shocker,
(Straight from Davey Jones’s locker,
Deep below the surface swirl:)
”He don’t know how to treat a girl.
I don’t expect no chocs or flowers,
Or sweet-talk that will last for hours.

“But when in heat and I’m his squeeze,
I wish he’d simply add a ‘please’.
“I quite agree.” (another voice)
“I wish we girls could have a choice.
He’s rude and gruff and rather rough,
And isn’t even good at stuff.
He’d like to think he’s quite a stud;
I’d much prefer to doze in mud.”

(A third voice) “Yes, he’s humourless and brusque
And far too quick to use a tusk.
I too agree with both of you.
My preference is for a zoo.
At least in zoos you laze away
With three square, well-cooked meals a day.
And if you have to mate, o.k?
You do it on a Saturday
With hoards of visitors in sight.
They keep a hippo male polite.”

You’re shocked, you’re shattered, angry too.
Was this gossip aimed at you?
Such comments make a chap’s skin crawl.
You never fancied them at all!
And lest you lose your pride and face,
You move off to another place,
Flumping down to take a dip-oh
In the greasy, grey Limpopo.

Tax avoidance is a tax on the rest of us

Most high earners do the same thing Trump did with his taxes: they pay tax accountants huge salaries to manipulate tax code minutia and shrink their taxes to the smallest possible amount. In dodging their fair share of taxes, the ultra-rich shove the tax burden of running this country onto the working and middle classes, to the point where taxpayers end up footing the bill for rich folks’ evasion. This burden has increased over the past few decades, as taxes for the top brackets have declined but avoidance has become more popular among the elite. (Dr. Brooke Harrington, Patriotic Millionaires, 2 Oct 2020)

My comment: Yes, I know, I do talk about the disparity between rich and poor rather frequently, but I believe it to be, along with the growing global climate disaster, the most threatening thing that has happened to the United States. It is winked at by “yes-your-worship-can-I-lick-your-boots” politicians who know-tow to the rich in return for money and corrupted regulations. Who suffers? The rest of us. Epicurus would not be surprised, but would nonetheless speak out. So should we. The system has skewed the body politic.

Testing without tracing

I offer this letter from a British student to illustrate the fact that the British handling of covid 19 is just as chaotic as that of the US:

To The Independent
I am a third-year physiology student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Like all students, we were encouraged to return to university for the start of the autumn term. I live in a house with seven other students; last weekend, I and some of my housemates started to show Covid-19 symptoms, so we all got tested. The speed and ease of the testing system was good and we quickly got our results back. Of the eight of us in the house, six came back positive, one negative and one unknown. I immediately contacted my mum and dad, along with friends I had seen, and they went into isolation with immediate effect.

The next morning at 8am, I was in bed with a fever, and was woken up by a phone call from Test and Trace. I told them all the places I had been and gave them the numbers of friends and family that I had been with. My housemates all received similar calls. The next morning, again at 8am, I had another call from them saying that I was not on their database system, so I had to go through the same questions I had previously spent 45 minutes going through again. Throughout the following day, I received the same calls about needing to go into isolation, etc. There were 11 phone calls and six missed calls with voicemail messages left on my phone in one day. My housemates have also received numerous calls; between us, we have received 76 in just three days!

Test and Trace have not yet contacted my parents, my friends or my boyfriend, who has since tested positive. Matt Hancock has said that the test and trace strategy could help to suppress the transmission of coronavirus, and that it will be essential to slow the spread of the virus. Public Health England said that people who are at risk will be contacted and given advice on what to do. Instead of contacting my parents and my boyfriend, the Test and Trace organisation called us so many times that it has become a nuisance.
How can the Track and Trace organisation actually work if all they are doing is harassing unwell people, rather than ensuring that their friends and contacts are not spreading the virus further?
Frances Hill, Fallowfield, Manchester

A lousy deal for the young

Nearly two-thirds of childless single British adults aged 20-34 have either never left the family home, or have moved back into it, according to new research into the “boomerang” generation. There are now an estimated 3.5 million young single adults living with their parents in the UK, a third more than a decade ago. (The Week 24 Oct 2020)

My take: No wonder there is resentment against the old, the wealthy and comfortable. House and apartment prices are out of reach for the young, even if they have jobs, pensions and a measure of the security which manifests itself in the confidence to take on large mortgages. Yes, Grandad and Grandmother will die and leave money, one assumes. Meanwhile, frustration and disappointment grow. I will not see the social results, but can imagine them. This is not healthy for any nation.

Brexit up to date

One major sticking point is the EU’s insistence on curbing the UK’s right to support local industries. State intervention may once have been anathema to true Tories, but Covid has “legitimised a more activist state” and the PM is sold on the idea of a new and vigorous industrial policy. He won’t give in easily on this.

But deal or no deal, the prospects for the UK are bleak, said Joseph de Weck in Foreign Policy. The agreement London and Brussels are trying to negotiate “doesn’t even come close” to the arrangements the EU has agreed with Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and even Ukraine. For example, whether the “all-important” financial services sector can continue to get access to the EU market will depend entirely on the “whim” of Brussels. The UK economy has shrunk more than any of its major European rivals during the pandemic. It can only shrink further. (Larry Elliott, The Guardian, Larry Elliott 24 Oct 2020).

My comment: All totally foreseeable amd an impending disaster. The Brexiteers have a lot to answer for, but the Brexiteer in the street doesn’t seem to care.

Emissions

The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world between 1990 and 2015, according to Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 60% over the 25 year period, but the increase in emissions from the richest 1% was three times greater than the increase from the poorest half. Overconsumption and the rich world’s addiction to high carbon transport were exhausting the “carbon budget”. (Reported in the The Humanist Sep/Oct 2020).

My comment: no society in history has survived for long when a tiny minority possesses more money than the rest of the population put together. not to mention emitting twice as much carbon dioxide than everyone else. In their own long-term interest the 1% should pay higher taxes, but also give more to charity and go for carbon neutrality (Mr. Bezos, are you listening? You advertise your company’s commitment to reducing emissions, but what about you and your rich friends?)

Drawing

“Lockdown was good for me,” says David Hockney. Holed up in his farmhouse in Normandy, with no visitors to distract him, the artist was able to devote himself entirely to his work. He has drawn the fires in his grate, pears ripening in orchards and even droplets of rain on his window. “I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t drawn.”

Drawing is of fundamental importance. “The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking,” he explains. “That’s the importance of art. To remind us to look and to see. Even if you are stuck inside with only one tree outside your window, you can see the leaves happen, you can see the tree grow and change. I mean, lots of people noticed spring this year and they hadn’t looked at it before. They had been too busy to notice. But when they looked at it they enjoyed it.”

If art has a purpose, he says, then this is surely it. “Most people don’t really look, they scan the ground in front of them so they can see to walk. But it’s possible to teach people to look. Really look. And it’s a very beautiful world if you really look at it.”
(Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times and The Week 17 October 2020)

My comment: It’s so nice to read something unconnected with doom and gloom. I have enjoyed drawing for years (no David Hockney, of course). During the covid crisis I took up watercolors and have been busy working through my ten volumes of pencil drawings, interpreting them in colour. A more Epicurean pastime I cannot think of.

Yesterday. I paused and thought,”You are doing this too quickly. Quality, quality! Slow down. It’s for fun – records of foreign trips, elephants and French chateaux, Italian scenes and designs for Christmas cards. My wife and my grandchildren might appreciate them, but this is really about
sanity and peace of mind in a time of threat and daily bad news. Hockney is right.

The fairness of the election

Across Europe, there is alarm not just about what happens on election day in the US, but about American democracy itself. Fewer than one in 10 think the US election will be free and fair. Yet large numbers of Europeans confess they don’t know whether Biden would be good for the world. Perhaps Trump’s legacy is to have taught us that relying on the US to guarantee global leadership is not a path to happiness. (The Guardian, U.K., 14 Oct 2020)

My comment: Back in 1963, traveling around the United States, hardly a day went by when someone – black, white, male, female, young or old – did not say “Don’t you just love this country? Isn’t it great?”. Back then I agreed every time the comment came up.

This is not a party political comment, just a reflection of my current, personal anxiety for the future. I have temporarily (?) lost peace of mind.

Siri

Every tech company with voice-activated computer assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant promises to protect privacy. But it turns out that Apple has been allowing its Siri voice assistant to transmit highly personal recordings of people without their knowledge as part of a project that transcribed portions of Siri recordings to improve the feature’s voice recognition. Apple have since suspended the project and apologized.

Now a whistleblower, Thomas Le Bonniec, has revealed that Apple has been secretly listening to the private conversations of people all over Europe, talking about their cancer, dead relatives, religion, sexuality, pornography, relationships and drug use, among other topics, “basically wiretapping entire populations.

So far, all the EU has done is to say it is talking with Apple. In May, an Irish regulatory authority told Politico. It is “still engaged with Apple on a number of fronts, [and] still getting answers to questions”, Meanwhile, there is no evidence the US has done anything to determine the extent of Apple’s secret Siri surveillance program. Laws protecting private communications include not only wiretapping at the federal level but state laws protecting against invasion of privacy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could determine that it’s an unfair trade practice to tell a consumer you’ve protected their information and then to secretly listen in, even if it’s only snippets or anonymized. So it’s critical to investigate whether Apple’s EU-based privacy abuses also took place in the US.

What’s clearly needed now is a comprehensive investigation in the US, as well as in Europe, into what Apple did with its Siri monitoring program, and whether the other big tech companies have been responsible for similar abuses. The FTC is working on antitrust inquiries of Facebook and Amazon.  The Department of Justice is allegedly investigating (or considering investigating) Google, Facebook and Apple. And in a potential breakthrough, the CEOs of the big four tech giants – Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon – have recently testified before the House judiciary committee about their alleged anti-competitive conduct.

Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa has also monitored consumers without their knowledge. Those investigating these companies on antitrust issues should add these reported privacy violations to the scope of their investigations into each of the tech giants.

If Apple did engage in a “massive violation of the privacy of millions of citizens”, the implications for liability to class-action suits and regulatory fines could be substantial. When a publicly traded company admits it hasn’t lived up to its promises, the company’s audit committee can – and should – order a comprehensive, impartial investigation by an outside law firm to find out what happened, and to report to its board of directors – and ultimately, to the public – as a way of coming clean with their customers.

(Ted Greenberg, a former federal prosecutor in the US justice department.)

My comment: The Russians, and probably the Chinese, are also spying on us.

Catholics and the US election

Four years ago, according to the Pew Research Center, 52% of Catholics voted for Trump, compared with 44% for Hillary Clinton. And with Biden himself being Catholic, you might expect a change in proportion of Catholic voting.

But now this Catholic vote has got a whole lot more interesting. Recently, Pope Francis travelled to Assisi to honour Saint Francis, the saint he most admires, for his dedication to the poor, and to sign his new encyclical. Encyclicals are the key teaching documents of popes in which they often focus on global issues, not just the internal concerns of the church.

In 2015, Francis produced Laudato Si’, on the environment, where he put all his moral weight behind those advocating the need to take action against climate breakdown. This time round his new document, Fratelli Tutti, published recently, describes a post-pandemic world, and the need for greater fraternity and solidarity. Its message means the pope has waded right into some of the key issues dominating the US presidential election.

Popes are supposed to be above party political matters (as are Epicureans) and Pope Francis has certainly not done anything as crass as name names in his encyclical, although he’s not above overt criticism. Ahead of the 2016 election, he described Trump’s plan to thwart migrants by building a wall between the US and Mexico as “not Christian”. (The Guardian 7 Oct 2020)

Studies have shown that attending church more frequently does not make white christians less racist. In fac, the data suggests that the opposite is true. The connection between holding more racist views and white christian identity is actually stronger among white evangelicals who attend church frequently than it is among those who attend less frequently.

Comment: I am not holding my breath. The end of abortion is more important than climate change to devout Catholics, and climate change itself is denied by too many. Vast sums are being spent by special interests to protect those special interests from having to actually do anything about the impending catastrophe,

The Second Amendment

Talking about a literal interpretation of the Constitution as written: the Constitution refers to State militias needing to bear arms, not individuals. It was a matter of States rights and local public defense. The Founders didn’t have in mind allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to bear arms willy-nilly, endangering harmless citizens. We have departed from the intentions of the Founders, who were too intelligent to envisage mobs roaming the streets, armed to the teeth.

I never met Epicurus (revelatory comment of the Century) but I suspect he would be alarmed at the idea of Tom, Dick and Harry arming themselves, and prowling the town looking for trouble and opportunities for voter suppression. He would be appalled by the conspiracy theories, and the preying upon the fears of less-educated people. No, Epicureanism does not embrace party politics, but it does embrace peace of mind, security, opportunity for all and as much equality of lifestyle as possible. It’s common sense.

Covid-19 Means Good Times for the Pentagon

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Washington has initiated its largest spending binge in history. In the process, you might assume that the unparalleled spread of the disease would have led to a little rethinking when it came to all the trillions of dollars Congress has given the Pentagon in these years that have in no way made us safer from, or prepared us better to respond to, this predictable threat to American national security. As it happens, though, even if the rest of us remain in danger from the coronavirus, Congress has done a remarkably good job of vaccinating the Department of Defense and the weapons makers that rely on it financially.

There is, of course, a striking history here. Washington’s reflexive prioritizing of the interests of defense contractors has meant paying remarkably little attention to, and significant underfunding, public health. Now, Americans are paying the price. With these health and economic crises playing out before our eyes and the government’s response to it so visibly incompetent and inadequate you would expect Congress to begin reconsidering its strategic approach to making Americans safer. But it cannot agree a badly needed stimulus package at the moment.

So Washington continues to operate just as it always has, filling the coffers of the Pentagon as though “national security” were nothing but a matter of war and more war.(Mandy Smithberger, Tom Dispatch, slightly edited, June 28 2020).

Comment:  There have been persistent rumors that the President is set upon a war, possibly with Iran, starting before November. (Time is running out. Ed!) The point is that a war against the ayatollahs, were it to happen, is handled half as well as the the fight against Covid 19, then the likelihood of winning is slight, and the deaths are even more pointless than other half- baked wars in history. Hopefully, war now seems unlikely, but you never know.

My comment: Epicureans should advocate, not for war, but for rescuing the poor, the sick, the old  and the helpless, without jobs, income or adequate diets, from being the chief sufferers of an epidemic which, if there were a will, could be halted in its tracks in a handful of weeks. We should be ashamed.

Youth needs face time

To The Times

As a young person who has the misfortune of entering the job market during this crisis, one of the things I’m looking at when applying for jobs is the companies’ attitudes toward home working – unusually, I am looking for companies that are encouraging employees to return to the office. From my perspective, there are many negatives to home working: it’s hard to establish yourself, and even more so to learn from your superiors. It’s difficult to develop relationships and contacts, and as a result it’s hard to imagine a situation in which those working from home would not suffer from lower prospects of advancement. I fear that this move to home working may only serve to entrench the already distinct generational divide. (The Times, 9 Sept 2020)

My take: I think this is a very mature and sensible letter. He is absolutely right. Working from home is like driving a circuitous route through country lanes – you are missing the main traffic on the highway, which arrives at its destination before you. I feel deeply about the young people starting out today. They have less job security and lousy pensions. A very bright and thoughtful young man we know, since leaving university, has had a horrible time getting a job. The competition is fierce and he is pipped at the post by others with “more experience” all the time. The jobs are not there. I fear we are creating a new class of deeply alienated people.

Critical thinking

“Falsum etiam est verum quod constituit superior”.

False becomes true when the boss decides it is. (Syrus, Maxims).

My comment: One of the most important gifts a good education gives you is critical thinking. (When did you last hear tell about this concept?). To be able to read a newspaper article by a writer you otherwise respect and to spot errors of fact or interpretation is (or should be) part of the mental equipment of a good citizen.

I was speaking the other day to an acquaintance of mine, who told me that voting by mail was riddled with corruption and falsification. Say something often enough on TV and people start to believe it. The current fuss about postal voting has never been a huge issue before. Why? Because the number of proven cases of problems have been infinitesimal. We all know why this is suddenly a huge “problem”, and I don’t want to get into party politics. But since it has been researched to death, and I believe the academics and scientists, I intend to vote confidently by mail. The ballots look incredibly difficult to tamper with – you can see clearly if anyone has altered a ballot. It doesn’t take a bloodhound!

Leftovers of slavery

Britain is “descending into a cultural war zone”, said Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express. “Bombarded with continual accusations of bigotry and bias”, our institutions are “surrendering to the woke fanatics”. The BBC decreed that “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory”would be played, but not sung at the Last Night of the Proms, reportedly as a sop to Black Lives Matter – until it abruptly U-turned this week (while reiterating its insistence that the original decision had been an “artistic” one).

At the British Library, staff have declared a racial “state of emergency”; its “Decolonising Working Group” rails against “Eurocentric maps” and relics of “colonial violence”.

The British Museum, meanwhile, has knocked its founding benefactor, Sir Hans Sloane, off his pedestal, because of Sloane’s links to the sugar trade. A bust of the 18th century physician will now feature alongside signage explaining his work in the “exploitative context of the British Empire”, and will be locked in a cabinet.

One question that is seldom asked is what Britain’s ethnic minority people actually think about these culture wars, said Sunder Katwala on Politics.co.uk. The answer is: “not much”. Polls show around two-thirds of non-white Britons support removing statues of slavers; but a clear majority also feel that this is a distraction from the real issues of race equality. On the Proms anthems, an informal poll of ethnic minority opinion on Twitter “resulted in a broad landslide for indifference”. Overwhelmingly, people think it’s a trivial and divisive argument. “In other words: have your silly season media culture war over the Proms, if you must. But not in our name, thank you very much.”
(The Spectator, Daily Express, Politics.com, and The Week, 5 September 2020)

My comment: I agree with the sentiments in the last paragraph. History is history, often cruel and messy. Put images of these historical figures in museums and let the public draw moral lessons from what they learn, without preaching and finger-pointing.

Read Epicurus , a poem

Theypeddle fear here;
They peddle fear of terrorists and sudden death;
They peddle fear of rapists and angry drivers;
They peddle fear of government and paying tax;
Of deer ticks, butter, sugar, fat, untested drugs;
Of unknown visitors and dark-skinned men;
Of invasion, war and sudden death;
Of gunmen holding up cashiers;
Of bombs in culverts, school kids murdered with guns;
They peddle inquietude, nervousness, distrust,
And to the terrified, apprehensive, cowed,
They preach damnation, hellfire in the afterlife.
The more they frighten us the more it gains the vote,
And the opinion-makers drivel on in biased turpitude,
Yapping in support of party, church and power.
Command, empire, sway, rule, dominion, supremacy
All depend on mongering fear and bald mendacity.

But then there is Epicurus,
His character assassinated by the church,
Maligned, misrepresented, damned by rote.
He only sought a tranquil mind, a life of peace,
Fearing nothing. For fear, he said, brings pain.
And politics? Striving, ambition, restlessness.
There are no active gods said he, no afterlife,
No spirit out there, evil or benign,
Rewarding, punishing, damning you to hell,
No trumpets, choirs, or seats of the almighty.
Just atoms, molecules, and,in them, everlasting life.
No devils, angels, harps, or golden cities;
No god resembling, oh!, coincidence! a man!
No omniscient god who reads your thoughts,
Or manages the minutiae of your life.
Your life, indeed! Your life it is, subject to fortune,
Tribulations, ups and downs, but in the end just yours.

Try not to chafe and fret, but seek a mental peace.
Pursue the arts, activities you love.
Don’t worry over things you can’t affect.
Seek simple pleasures, food and friends.
Forsake consumerism, shops and malls,
Buying only what you really need.
Do no harm. Mend fences where required.
Cultivate your garden and your peace,
Or get a dog.
All to be done in moderation and with joie de vivre,
For simple pleasures trump all wild excess.

Be fun, be smiling, for life is to be lived – –
What follows lasts a long, long time,
Should some abuse you as an atheist.
Remember! it is a propaganda word, and just a word,
Spoken by people with their own agenda
Read Epicurus! Till your garden, walk your dog,
Enjoy Nature while we have it still.
Reject all superstition, think for yourself
Believe not the religious memes of modern life.
Be gentle, thoughtful and and ask yourself…
Why do they peddle fear here?

Robert Hanrott, January 2006